Apr 15, 2016

Sheriff Wheeler: FLDS is fracturing

Charley and Norma Najacht
Custer County Chronicle
April 14, 2016

There was standing room only at the April 7 meeting of the Custer County Citizen Coalition held in the basement of the VFW with Sheriff Rick Wheeler there to answer questions. The meeting lasted about two hours.

Elements of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in the twin cities of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah, collectively known as Short Creek, are fracturing, according to Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler.

“They are fracturing down there and the same thing will happen here,” Wheeler told an audience of approximately 85 people at the second meeting of the newly-formed Custer County Citizen Coalition held last Thursday evening at the VFW downstairs meeting room in Custer.

The sheriff was referring to recent reports of former FLDS members in Short Creek being denied utilities and being evicted from their homes. Now there are charges that they and other FLDS members are being denied food at the community storehouse, or finding shelves to be depleted of food stuffs, while the FLDS hierarchy is eating gourmet foods.

A Phoenix jury awarded a non-FLDS couple $5.3 million last month in their discrimination lawsuit against the twin towns over being denied utilities and other governmental services because they were not FLDS members. The couple further claimed they were subjected to retaliation from the towns because of their lawsuit.

The sheriff reiterated what he could and could not do at the compound. He said he could not go onto the compound without probable cause that a crime is being committed. 

“If anybody comes out of there claiming they were part of a crime, then we could go in there,” Wheeler said.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are involved in monitoring the compound, the sheriff said, but he was reluctant to say how this is being accomplished. He would not say if or how the roads to the compound are being monitored. “I cannot discuss that,” he said. “There is a lot of traffic that goes back and forth.”

Karl Von Rump, who lives on land adjacent to the compound, said, “It happens every night.”

The sheriff said he has been in the compound “a lot” with various state and local inspectors of the sanitary and water systems. However, he added that he doesn’t know who is in charge now and “since this last incident my credibility is not very good.” 

Wheeler was part of the state and federal law enforcement team that arrested Seth Jeffs, the Custer FLDS compound bishop, outside the compound Feb. 23 as part of a $12 million alleged scheme to defraud the government through the federal food stamp program and money laundering. Ten other FLDS leaders were arrested simultaneously in Short Creek, including Seth Jeff’s brother, Lyle. Both men are brothers of imprisoned FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs.

“Pretty much everybody down there (in the Custer County compound) is in the Jeffs family,” Wheeler said. “It’s the elite spot.”

Seth Jeffs was extradited to Utah and last week a judge released him on bail with the stipulation that he wear a GPS ankle monitor. He must receive permission from the court to travel to South Dakota to test the water at the compound.

“No one else is capable of testing the water?” an audience member asked. 

In response to another question, no welfare checks have ever been requested at the compound, which would have to involve the Department of Social Services (DSS), the sheriff said. “We do have DSS involved in this,” he said, “and Pennington County is involved. We do have a pretty good plan and it’s revisited on a quarterly basis.”

That same question led to discussion about children and education at the local compound. “Children are not being educated there,” said Brenda Warfel, who set up a Facebook page for the group. She said the Facebook page has 148 friends, with over half from Utah. She noted that a man from Utah who helps FLDS members who escape enter mainstream society has offered to train people here on how to deal with them.

Both local and state education officials say they cannot divulge who or how many children are being homeschooled at a particular address.

The sheriff said that when he does see children in the compound and asks about them, he is told they are there on vacation from Short Creek. “It’s lies,” Wheeler said, “but I can’t prove it. It’s very aggravating. It’s like running into a brick wall.

“That’s the big thing,” he added. “They’re just registering a few to pacify the authorities. They’re not going to give you the numbers.

“We have got to have probable cause for a search warrant to be issued. I know it’s a concern. There’s a fine line. You’ve got to have a good reason for a search warrant,” Wheeler said. “Once we establish a relationship with a leader there, they are gone. I’ve worked that area for 10 years and established relationships with every bishop. But it gets dissolved pretty fast.

“There have been some births out here, but there is no trail, no records.You just can’t sit down and talk to them about anything. It’s really hard,” the sheriff said. He added that he has no way of knowing how many people are living in the compound.

“You can’t sit down and talk to them and get a straight answer,” Wheeler said. “They’re brainwashed.”

In answering another question from District 30 House candidate Tim Goodwin, “Do you feel safe,” Wheeler answered, “My biggest concern is Warren Jeffs. He could tell anyone to do anything.”

“We would like to be in a position that if people (inside the compound) get the word that it’s safe to come out, that we are ready for them,” the sheriff said. At the Feb. 4 FLDS meeting Custer County emergency manager Mike Carter said a number of area safe houses have been identified.

The sheriff said multiple law enforcement agencies are sharing information with him about the compound.

“If anything happens there, I’ll be down there in a minute,” he said. “It’s a tough issue. We don’t have a quick solution for it. They’ve been at it 100 years. It’s not going to go away. The best thing is to leave here tonight with a plan to provide for anyone who comes out. 

“Something is going to happen (with the FLDS) and it’s probably going to happen here. We need to concentrate on what we do when they come out ... because it will happen.”

Elements of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in the twin cities of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah, collectively known as Short Creek, are fracturing, according to Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler.

“They are fracturing down there and the same thing will happen here,” Wheeler told an audience of approximately 85 people at the second meeting of the newly-formed Custer County Citizen Coalition held last Thursday evening at the VFW downstairs meeting room in Custer.

The sheriff was referring to recent reports of former FLDS members in Short Creek being denied utilities and being evicted from their homes. Now there are charges that they and other FLDS members are being denied food at the community storehouse, or finding shelves to be depleted of food stuffs, while the FLDS hierarchy is eating gourmet foods.

A Phoenix jury awarded a non-FLDS couple $5.3 million last month in their discrimination lawsuit against the twin towns over being denied utilities and other governmental services because they were not FLDS members. The couple further claimed they were subjected to retaliation from the towns because of their lawsuit.

The sheriff reiterated what he could and could not do at the compound. He said he could not go onto the compound without probable cause that a crime is being committed. 

“If anybody comes out of there claiming they were part of a crime, then we could go in there,” Wheeler said.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are involved in monitoring the compound, the sheriff said, but he was reluctant to say how this is being accomplished. He would not say if or how the roads to the compound are being monitored. “I cannot discuss that,” he said. “There is a lot of traffic that goes back and forth.”

Karl Von Rump, who lives on land adjacent to the compound, said, “It happens every night.”

The sheriff said he has been in the compound “a lot” with various state and local inspectors of the sanitary and water systems. However, he added that he doesn’t know who is in charge now and “since this last incident my credibility is not very good.” 

Wheeler was part of the state and federal law enforcement team that arrested Seth Jeffs, the Custer FLDS compound bishop, outside the compound Feb. 23 as part of a $12 million alleged scheme to defraud the government through the federal food stamp program and money laundering. Ten other FLDS leaders were arrested simultaneously in Short Creek, including Seth Jeff’s brother, Lyle. Both men are brothers of imprisoned FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs.

“Pretty much everybody down there (in the Custer County compound) is in the Jeffs family,” Wheeler said. “It’s the elite spot.”

Seth Jeffs was extradited to Utah and last week a judge released him on bail with the stipulation that he wear a GPS ankle monitor. He must receive permission from the court to travel to South Dakota to test the water at the compound.

“No one else is capable of testing the water?” an audience member asked. 

In response to another question, no welfare checks have ever been requested at the compound, which would have to involve the Department of Social Services (DSS), the sheriff said. “We do have DSS involved in this,” he said, “and Pennington County is involved. We do have a pretty good plan and it’s revisited on a quarterly basis.”

That same question led to discussion about children and education at the local compound. “Children are not being educated there,” said Brenda Warfel, who set up a Facebook page for the group. She said the Facebook page has 148 friends, with over half from Utah. She noted that a man from Utah who helps FLDS members who escape enter mainstream society has offered to train people here on how to deal with them.

Both local and state education officials say they cannot divulge who or how many children are being homeschooled at a particular address.

The sheriff said that when he does see children in the compound and asks about them, he is told they are there on vacation from Short Creek. “It’s lies,” Wheeler said, “but I can’t prove it. It’s very aggravating. It’s like running into a brick wall.

“That’s the big thing,” he added. “They’re just registering a few to pacify the authorities. They’re not going to give you the numbers.

“We have got to have probable cause for a search warrant to be issued. I know it’s a concern. There’s a fine line. You’ve got to have a good reason for a search warrant,” Wheeler said. “Once we establish a relationship with a leader there, they are gone. I’ve worked that area for 10 years and established relationships with every bishop. But it gets dissolved pretty fast.

“There have been some births out here, but there is no trail, no records.You just can’t sit down and talk to them about anything. It’s really hard,” the sheriff said. He added that he has no way of knowing how many people are living in the compound.

“You can’t sit down and talk to them and get a straight answer,” Wheeler said. “They’re brainwashed.”

In answering another question from District 30 House candidate Tim Goodwin, “Do you feel safe,” Wheeler answered, “My biggest concern is Warren Jeffs. He could tell anyone to do anything.”

“We would like to be in a position that if people (inside the compound) get the word that it’s safe to come out, that we are ready for them,” the sheriff said. At the Feb. 4 FLDS meeting Custer County emergency manager Mike Carter said a number of area safe houses have been identified.

The sheriff said multiple law enforcement agencies are sharing information with him about the compound.

“If anything happens there, I’ll be down there in a minute,” he said. “It’s a tough issue. We don’t have a quick solution for it. They’ve been at it 100 years. It’s not going to go away. The best thing is to leave here tonight with a plan to provide for anyone who comes out. 

“Something is going to happen (with the FLDS) and it’s probably going to happen here. We need to concentrate on what we do when they come out ... because it will happen.”

http://www.custercountynews.com/cms/news/story-726233.html

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